Startup Weekends Nurture Innovation

Startup Weekends Nurture Innovation

Technology November 06, 2012 / By Yael Grauer
Startup Weekends Nurture Innovation

Think 54 hours isn't enough time to create, design and build a simple prototype for a viable tech startup? You just might be wrong.

Sometimes a weekend of business cramming can be a good thing.

In fact, a weekend was all it took for 17 teams of developers, coders, designers, and marketers, who’d converged upon the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management for Startup Weekend Twin Cities 4  to create unique software or mobile applications, begin market viability testing, and present their fledgling creations to a standing room only crowd of startup enthusiasts and tech entrepreneurs. Enthusiastic energy, along with a hint of nervousness, was palpable amidst the 160+ participants. Quick and snappy presentations were followed by a round of tough questions from smart and savvy judges, who would at times chime in with suggestions for seemingly simple modifications—tweaks so insightful that they could make or break a business plan, offered without skipping a beat.

BrowserTap offered a cross-browser testing platform, where web designers could use every browser within their own browser, Inception-style, for testing purposes. The grand prize-winning team, Nifty Gifter, promised a cell phone app to improve the gift giving experience by allowing users to assign gifts they see (via bar code scan or image recognition) to friends and family, and receiving reminders in advance of those special gift-giving dates. iCtrl presented a world-changing product which would allow mobility-impaired individuals to use technology with any input, providing thousands of dollars of savings—and more adaptability—than similar products on the market.

The event was facilitated by TechdotMN founders Jeff Pesek and Mike Bollinger, but Startup Weekend isn’t limited to the Twin Cities. It was founded as an LLC by Andrew Hyde in 2007, and originated in Boulder, Colorado. Now a non-profit organization headquartered in Seattle, Wash., Startup Weekend has international reach. In fact, events have taken place in more than 300 cities and over 100 countries. 57 similar events will take place next weekend alone, with locations as far-reaching as Norway, Australia, Iran, China, Russia, Bolivia, Turkey and the Philippines (but also Houston, Connecticut, Boston and St. Louis). Boasting a “no talk, all action” tagline, Startup Weekend is sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation, as well as Google and Microsoft.

A 54-hour event seems counterintuitive as a launching ground for a viable start-up, and yet businesses are actually launched from the ideas hatched during the weekend. Startup Weekend has facilitated the creation of over 5000 startups, and the organization estimates that over 36% of startups continue to grow strong after 3 months, with approximately 80% of participants planning on continuing working with their team or startup after the weekend commences.

A bird’s eye view acquired after attendance of just one evening of final presentations may not capture the special sauce leading to innovation, and yet there are certain aspects of this weekend which appear to create fertile ground where cutting edge startups can grow.

  • Process-oriented Approach: One could spend a small fortune buying products on how to create a viable idea, or how to launch a business… rolling one’s sleeves up—and responding to challenges as they arise— is a whole different story.
  • Time Constraints: A frenzied rush of activity due to time limitations can lead to quick problem solving, initiative, self-direction and a tremendous sense of focus.
  • Collaborative Teamwork: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, particularly when groups of people with varied skills can share their specific areas of expertise, and learn from one another. In this instance, the event is carefully crafted to allow for an equal number of participants with technical backgrounds and those with other areas of expertise.
  • Mentor Support: Receiving valuable feedback from people with their finger on the pulse can speed up one’s learning exponentially.
  • Networking: Put a group of energetic and enthusiastic people in a room together, and collaboration--or plans for future collaboration--is likely to result. The auditorium was abuzz with people making connections, sharing resources, answering questions and providing suggestions in conversations which spilled into the hallways and local bars. No matter how tech-savvy the audience, building face-to-face connections is invaluable.


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